May 16, 2013

[TV] Vikings: Season 1

I never expected History (the pay-TV channel) to be able to put together a more than decent drama series. I don't think you can fault me given the quality of their programming in recent years, that has leaned more and more on reality television shows more than anything else.

But then Vikings happened in a big way and I don't think any of us who took the time to watch the series will ever forget it. And that's not meant to be a negative statement - this show was quite the rewarding television experience and one that I'm glad that will continue on for another season.

And yes, I certainly have shown a penchant for period stories like this. But I think it's safe to say that my appreciation for the show goes beyond any particular favor for the historical drama fiction genre.The show is a great mix of various genres and styles, thus presenting us with a fairly dramatic plot with great characters and some good action to boot.

So yeah, I really enjoyed the show.

Synopsis: Vikings is a historical drama series written and created by Michael Hirst for History. The series aims to tell the story of the infamous Viking Ragnar Lodbrok and his warriors and their raids of Britain at the time.

The natural heart of this story is Ragnar Lodbrok (Travis Fimmel), who starts as a young Viking warrior with dreams of raiding new territories fabled to be in the West. Thus far all raids have gone East under the reign of Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne). It could be said that everyone knows that there's nothing to the west, but of course Ragnar's dreams and ambitions won't be silenced.

He secretly enlists his friend Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) to craft a new kind of longship - one that can survive the passage to the fabled lands West. Thus Ragnar gathers close allies to him for this first attempt to find new lands with seemingly magical technologies secured from other warriors. We all know that the raids will succeed eventually, but half the fun is watching them make that first journey and see just how far they manage to go.

One has to give credit not just to Fimmel for bringing Ragnar to life in a most compelling manner, but he shared great on-screen chemistry with Katheryn Winnick who played Ragnar's wife, Lagertha. And she's no simple housewife - she's a true Viking shieldmaiden and can handle a battle as well as any man (as we do get to see throughout the series). She's an interesting contrast of loving mother and fierce warrior - one who essentially demands the right to fight at her husband's side time and time again.

I love how they depicted the battles in this series. True historical accuracy is rather difficult considering the time period being covered, but regardless you have to admit how cool it is to see just how fierce the Vikings were compared to the English. And it's not about superior weapons or armor - just the kind of martial prowess and discipline that comes with a people who raise their young to fight as early as possible. They walk any battlefield as if they own it and the fight with no regard for tomorrow.

And don't even get me started on the intensity of the child actors. Brilliant.

Another great part of the series was how they wove in the richness of their religious beliefs and how every sign and symbol could represent the favor or ire of the Norse gods. And it's not some mindless representation of pagan beliefs. The characters certainly presented just how real their gods were for them in a manner that complemented their actions or sometimes defined them.

As much as we want to expect 100% historical accuracy from a History-produced show, I don't mind any potential liberties taken with this story. After all, good television is about telling a good story and getting a particular version of the events out there. And this series has certainly brought the Viking culture to life in a way no lecture ever could.

Vikings was a surprisingly good show and one that I look forward to enjoying for another season or more, if the folks holding the purse strings remain generous with the show. Thus I'm happy to rate the show a full 5 surprise bedroom invitations out of a possible 5.

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